Chapter 1 1
Every time I collect my mail from the paint-spattered box in the lobby and see my name printed over and over in bold black ink, I’m reminded that I’m named after a rock star.
Not an endlessly cool rocker like Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, or Madonna. No, my name is Henley Rose Evans, and my parents consciously named me after the lead singer and drummer of every boomer’s favorite easy listening band, the Eagles.
Too bad I’m the furthest thing from a rock star you can find on planet Earth. My landlord barely remembers my name, let alone hordes of screaming fans, and I’ve trashed precisely zero hotel rooms. I do have dreams though. Big dreams for a shiny, successful career. Just not one that requires me to sing in public.
Tucking my stack of mostly junk mail inside my tote, I huff my way up the carpeted stairs of my downtown Seattle apartment building. By the time I reach my floor, my thighs are burning. I could have taken the ancient matchbox elevator, but I still needed to get my steps in today.
Floorboards creak as I trudge down the hall while the smell of lemon cleaner hangs in the air. My phone buzzes and I pull it from my pocket. It’s a text from my sister, Walsh.
I have a big surprise…
My stomach drops like a stone chucked off a cliff. Walsh’s “surprises” are surprises in the same way that getting hit by a bus is a surprise. I stop to respond, water droplets rolling off my coat and soaking into the patterned green carpet.
What’s his name?
Not a guy. Tell you tomorrow.
Come on what is it
The door beside me opens with a wash of music and laughter. I jolt and my bag slips down the slick fabric of my raincoat to the crook of my elbow, wrenching my arm, and I almost drop my phone. Fumbling, I shove it into my bag.
“Oh,” says my neighbor Sophie. Or is it Sophia? Sophie and Sophia moved into 4E last month, and they’re both roughly the same height with long, highlighted blond hair and the same generically pretty features. They remind me of Walsh. “Hey, Hannah.”
“Henley,” I enunciate. A by-product of having a name outside the mainstream? No one ever gets it right.
“Are you just getting home from work?” Sophie/Sophia asks, glancing at the window at the end of the hall. It’s well after 8 p.m. and completely dark outside.
“Cool.” Looping a slim purse strap over her head, she closes the door behind her and the music and chatter that had filled the hallway is reduced to a dull rumble. “We’re having a little get-together. Nothing fancy. I’m headed out for a beer run, but feel free to swing by.”
I offer her a genuine smile. “Thanks. Maybe I will.”
My laptop and strategic management textbook weigh my bag—and my mood—down like a couple of bricks. My temples throb with exhaustion from the long day, and it’s not even over yet. I still have the almighty task list to address.
Guilt twinges my gut as I turn the corner, but I brush it away. I like my new neighbors even though they’re younger than I am; I’m twenty-eight and they’re fresh from undergraduate-ville. We’ll just have to hang out some other night. One where I don’t have work or classes hovering over my head. So, sometime next century, maybe?
Reaching my apartment, I shove my key into the lock and shoulder open the door. A raspy yowl greets me. I set my bag on the floor and flip on the light.
“Hi, Noodles.” I hang my keys on a hook by the door and my coat in the narrow front closet. Noodles the cat saunters into the foyer. He’s a long-haired gray tabby with wiry fur that sticks out every which way, no matter how much I brush him, and golden-green eyes that focus in two completely different directions.
One time I googled “What’s the opposite of cross-eyed” and the term “divergent strabismus” popped up, which sounds more like a sci-fi novel than a medical condition, but the vet said in his case it’s hereditary, so nothing to worry about.
Whatever it’s called though, Noodles is one rough-looking cat. Hence his status as the veteran resident of the local animal shelter before I adopted him last summer. I reach down to scratch Noodles under the chin. He croaks a meow like he’s been smoking two packs a day for a decade.
“I see how it is.” I head to the kitchen and Noodles trots after me. I feed my smug cat before changing into yoga pants and a Boise State T-shirt. Grabbing a container of leftover quinoa salad from the fridge, I pad across the wood floor with a glass of pinot grigio back to my cozy living room.
Anyone who steps into my one-bedroom Belltown apartment would think I’m a first-rate world traveler—if they didn’t know me. Oversized, colorful maps, framed marinescapes, and wildlife portraits are arranged in a collage above my ruby sofa. Along the opposite wall, which I’ve painted the same jewel-toned shade of reddish pink, stacks of marketing and travel books teeter on a trunk, while a Craigslist armchair squats under the window. It’s like National Geographic and Porthole Cruise magazine had a baby and that baby splatted all over my apartment.
But the truth is: except for a handful of trips to Colorado as a kid and one generic spring break in Cancún when I was nineteen, I’ve never been outside the Pacific Northwest. No, I’m not a fraud. I’m a marketing manager for a global adventure cruise line.
So all the posters and prints? Office swag. Thanks, Seaquest Adventures, for the cheap decorating.
It’s not that I don’t want to travel. When I took this job three years ago, I had high hopes of seeing the world. Then life happened. Career ambitions. Grad school. Student loans. The vague, persistent headache that is adulting. But mostly my career. It’s hard to take time out of the office when you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder and make director before the age of thirty.
Setting my dinner and drink on my Ikea coffee table, I plop onto the sofa and yank the elastic band out of my bun. My hair tumbles over my shoulders and I shake it out, massaging the roots to ease my sore scalp. I wish I could turn in right now, just crawl into bed and clock out for the night, but my task list is burning a hole in my to-do app. I won’t be able to sleep until everything is checked off, so I might as well get it over with.
Taking a sip of wine, I pull up the list and read the first item.
Task #1: Confirm Graeme posted British Columbia social media content.
I fish my laptop out of my bag and flip it open. Noodles hops up next to me and nestles against my thigh, purring. Thirty seconds later I’m scanning Seaquest Adventures’s Twitter feed. I shove a bite of quinoa salad into my mouth and chew. I barely taste it as I scroll. Scanning tweet after tweet, I put down my fork, eyebrows furrowing.
When I reach yesterday’s tweets, rage swells inside my chest. I log on to Facebook. Same. Instagram. Same. I squeeze my eyes shut and pinch the bridge of my nose. “Graeme.”
He didn’t do it. He said he would, but he didn’t. So freaking typical of Mr. High-and-Mighty Social Media Guru. I was right to make “confirm social media posts” the number-one item on my to-do list.
I glare at the tiny photo beside Graeme’s name, at his strong, smooth chin and short brown hair. I hate to admit it, but the first time I saw his picture, I actually thought the arrogant jerk was handsome. And when we spoke on the phone on his very first day over a year ago, oof. I nearly melted. His voice is deep and rich and husky, like a lumberjack dipped in a chocolate fountain.
Then we started working together, and it wasn’t two weeks before Graeme The Rotten Troll showed his true colors.
It started when some gem video footage from one of our Costa Rica cruises landed in my in-box. Most of it was typical—guests having fun on a hike, beaming smiles, high energy—but toward the end, the videographer included B-roll showing two capuchin monkeys grooming each other. It was blink-or-you-miss-it fast: one monkey appeared to sniff the other monkey’s butt, made a sour face, then lost its balance and fell out of a tree. Hilarious, right?
I figured, hey, people love funny animal videos, so let’s cut in some other wildlife clips from our cruises, set it to music, add clever captions, and post it on social media with hashtags targeted to boost engagement. I put my halfway-decent video editing skills to good use, and when I had a version I was happy with, I forwarded it to Graeme, our newly minted social media manager, for posting.
And the damn thing went viral.
I didn’t know it went viral until the next morning, when our boss, James, pulled it up at our weekly department meeting. More than fifty thousand views and climbing. Post engagement was up 67 percent and our website traffic had shot through the roof.
After the clapping and laughter died down, James boomed his approval in the general direction of the speakerphone where Graeme was dialed in.
“Fabulous, brilliant. See, everyone? This is what ingenuity looks like Well done, Graeme.”
“Well done, Graeme.” Not, “Well done, Henley.”
And what did Graeme say in response to our boss wrongly giving him all the credit? After a few seconds of staticky phone silence, he simply said, “Thank you.”
As if that wasn’t enough, James decided to smear salt in the wound. “I wish all of you would take Graeme’s initiative,” he said to the group, then looked directly at me. “Especially you, Henley. Costa Rica is your region, after all.”
I know, I know. I probably should have said something right then and there—corrected James on the spot and told him exactly who was responsible for the viral video. But my mouth was too full of shock to do anything except hang open like a drowned fish. And James hates being told he’s wrong, especially in front of other people. Once the meeting was over though, it was too late. Going to James at that point would have been like tattling, and who wanted to look petty in front of their boss?
So Graeme got away with it. He got away with swiping the credit and the praise right out from under me.
Ever since then, he’s used the incident to launch himself to BFF status with our boss. The beginning and ending of every staff meeting is positively packed with testosterone-filled chatter.
How’s your son? How was boating last weekend? Did you catch the latest Mariners game? There was enough brownnosing masquerading as bro bonding to make me want to smash the speakerphone into smithereens under my pointiest heels.
Here’s the thing: I’ve worked with Graeme’s type before. He might have the whole nice-guy facade down to a science, but I knew the truth. He was a sneaky, entitled user who was willing to do whatever it took to get ahead.
Graeme must have figured out somewhere along the line that I was onto him, because over the past year he’s become nothing less than the bane of my professional existence. Anytime I want something done quickly, there’s always a reason he can’t do it. If I have an idea, he questions it. I send him an email? I get a curt response—never mind a please or thank-you.
Apart from the occasional video conference, I’ve never actually seen Graeme in person, since he works full time from home. So I like to think that despite his steel-cut jaw and those deep-set eyes, he has spindly arms and legs and cottage cheese breath to match his personality. I picture a short, paunchy Graeme cackling and dancing around a fire pit holding a pitchfork.
Logging in to Outlook, I punch out an email like I’m entering the nuclear codes.
Subject: Social Media OVERDUE
I noticed that my requested social media posts promoting the airfare deal for all remaining 2019 “Coastal British Columbia & the Inside Passage” departures were not published today. As this deal expires in a week, and none of the September voyages are currently at capacity, I expect to see it marketed robustly on our social media platforms. See the Google Doc I shared last week for content. Please address ASAP.
Henley R. Evans
Marketing Manager, North and Central America
Seaquest Adventures | www.seaquestadventures.com
As soon as I click send, I snag my phone and tap on the box next to Task #1. A big black line appears, crossing it out. I inhale deeply through my nose and a sense of calm slowly spreads over me.
At least my end of this task is done. For now. Graeme better hop to it and get my shit posted though, like, yesterday.
My muscles relax as I nestle into the soft cushions and stretch out my legs. Crossing my feet at the ankles on the coffee table, I read tasks #2 and #3 on my list:
Task #2: Make student loan payment.
I make a retching noise in my throat and my shoulders tense automatically. I need to double-check my savings account and monthly budget before I drop that behemoth. Reluctantly, I reassign this task for tomorrow. I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with it right now.
Task #3: Outline strategic management final paper, due Monday.
That I can do. But just as I’m about to set my laptop aside to grudgingly pull my textbook out of my bag, my in-box dings.
Graeme has replied. Nostrils flaring, I open his email.
Subject: Re: Social Media OVERDUE
Social Media Manager
Seaquest Adventures | www.seaquestadventures.com
Soon? Is that soon like right now soon or next Tuesday soon? I scrunch my hand into a fist on top of Noodles. He purrs louder. This is so… unacceptable. And not just because he left our boss out of the CC. I grind my teeth until my jaw aches.
Graeme Crawford-Collins. Graham Cracker-Collins. I can’t let him blow me off again. I won’t.
Bookings for Pacific cruises from Alaska to Panama have gone up every single quarter since I joined the company—thanks in large part to my tireless efforts—and I will not see my track record ruined because of him. Especially not now, not when there are rumblings that Seaquest Adventures is creating a brand-new director of digital marketing position—one that I would do anything to land.
I’d work overtime. Pursue my master’s in business administration at night. Volunteer for extra projects. Oh wait, I already do all of those things, so that promotion should have my name plastered all over it. But only if I don’t fumble the game-winning pass late in the fourth quarter. I crack my knuckles against my jaw and, with a growl, drain my wine, slam the glass onto the coffee table, and click reply.
Gird your loins, Graeme Crawford-Collins. Because you’re about to get a dose of Henley thunder.